Germany ready for Canada
World Cup opener crucial contest for both countries
by John Korobanik, The Edmonton Journal, September 18, 2003
COLUMBUS - Striker Birgit Prinz and WUSA player of the year Maren Meinert spearhead a strong German team that would rather not have Canada in its grouping but is confident about its chances and comfortable with its preparation for the 2003 FIFA women's World Cup.
"I might not have wanted Canada, but I'm satisfied nonetheless," German coach Tina Theune-Meyer recently told FIFAworldcup.com
. "Canada has developed into a very strong side over the last two years and has really grown in stature. They're clearly joint favourites of the group."
Germany, ranked No. 3 in the world, and No. 12 Canada meet on Saturday in the opening match of the three-week tournament for both teams. It is a pivotal match for both, and could ultimately determine who finishes first in the group and gets to avoid meeting intimidating China in the first playoff round.
"The most important game is the one against Canada," midfielder Sandra Smisek said in a recent interview. "It's the first game and Canada is definitely our strongest opponent in the group."
Smisek, from FFC Frankfurt, can see the Germans, a longtime dominant force in European soccer, advancing a long way in the World Cup, if they get by Canada.
"We just have to concentrate on Canada. Anything else would just be daydreaming."
Japan, which upset Mexico to get into the World Cup, and Argentina are also in the C group with Germany and Canada.
Prinz, Meinert and Smisek are just three members of a strong, well-balanced German squad that surprisingly is without talented scorer Inka Grings. The three-time leading scorer in Germany and a member of the country's 2000 Olympic bronze-medal team had played alongside Prinz to form one of the world's most dangerous striker units in women's soccer.
But Grings is still recovering from a damaged kneecap and torn ligaments, prompting Theune-Meyer to omit her from the side. Factored into that decision was the strong play this year of Meinert, who came out of retirement to be named player of the year in the Women's United Soccer Association.
"In Maren Meinert and Steffi Jones we are welcoming back two massive players from the spine of the European championship-winning team of 2001," said Theune-Meyer. "Their experience and class can only benefit the team for the challenges which lie ahead."
The pair made their return to the German side last weekend in a 4-0 victory over England that allowed Meinert to demonstrate that she hasn't lost the ability to give defenders fits on the left side.
Prinz said seeing the pair back in the German national colours was a boost for the squad and their World Cup hopes. "They are big-game players and we need them," she said. "We have a better chance of success with Steffi and Maren in the lineup; it's as simple as that."
While the Germans have been a force in Europe, it is their preoccupation with the European championship that may have hindered their chances in previous World Cups, in which they finished second in 1995 and fourth in 1999.
Germany kept together a veteran squad to win the European title in 2001 but since then has been scrambling to get younger players onto the team.
Theune-Meyer has two 20-year-olds on her side -- midfielders Linda Bresonik and Viola Odebrecht -- and a pair of 23-year-olds, defender Nia Kunzer and forward Martina Muller. Otherwise it is a veteran team, mostly over the age of 25 and including five women over the age of 30. By contrast, Canada has just three players over 30 and eight aged 20 or younger.
Germany's oldest player, 32-year-old midfielder Bettina Wiegmann, with 147 caps and 48 international goals to her credit, likes the makeup of her side, and after a long period of preparation that included numerous games against men's teams, she is confident of their chances.
"We have a cohesive and balanced team with a good spirit and no cliques whatsoever," Wiegmann said. "I think we will have a big part to play in the World Cup."